Research Summary: BrightFocus-funded Drs. Pepperberg and Qian led a group that designed a chemical switch, called MPC088, which could one day serve as a light-detecting substitute in eyes that have lost their light-detecting retina cells, called photoreceptors. MPC088 was created by essentially “gluing” a light-sensitive chemical onto the anesthetic, propofol, which normally binds to a nerve cell surface protein, called a GABA receptor. When the research group added MPC088 to a number of different types of cultured cells (including optic nerve and brain cells), they found that this switch could detect light and transmit a signal through the GABA receptor to activate the cells.
Significance: The blindness associated with age-related macular degeneration and other retinal degenerative diseases can come from loss of the light-sensitive photoreceptor cells. This research group has designed an agent that could serve as a potential light-detecting replacement for these lost cells. Further work is needed to determine if this system could be incorporated into a future treatment for people who have age-related macular degeneration. In addition, the researchers believe this switch could be used in a treatment for non-blinding brain diseases, such as quieting epileptic seizures.